It is that time of year when our attention is drawn to the incarnation of Christ – the act of God where he stepped out of glory and put on human skin. I think we are all pretty much aware of the of the story of the birth of Christ. But there is a significance to this event that goes well beyond what we normally think about. Typically our focus is primarily on the events surrounding the birth of the baby Jesus. But there is a significance that goes well beyond the story – even beyond the fact of its miraculous nature.
You see, when we speak of God stepping out of eternity and into time, we are talking about an actual person who injected himself into our earthly physical reality. In that act, he did something that had, and continues to have, an actual, objective effect on the operation of the world.
The profound meaning of this act cannot be overestimated. In fact, if you don’t get the significance of the reality of this event, your personal faith will end up being shallow and your excitement about living out your faith in daily life will be deficient. That is because people don’t put their whole effort into things that they don’t believe are real in an objective sense. For instance, would you go on a worldwide search for an actual unicorn? Of course not! You know it is an imaginary creature and you would be wasting your time and money. On the other hand, would you train to run a marathon if you were assured that you would receive one million dollars just for completing it? Absolutely yes! In fact you would likely put yourself thorough all kinds of strain and suffering in order to condition yourself enough to run the required 26 miles, 385 yards. Why? Because the one million dollars is real and tangible to you.
Our worldview is the belief foundation which gives us our conception of who God is and what he is like. Unfortunately, there is a worldview which is very prominent in our society which asserts that the supernatural simply doesn’t exist. While we, as Christians, don’t believe that assertion, elements of that worldview have become so pervasive that it affects even our beliefs and actions. Intellectually we affirm the reality of God, but in life we often live as if he were not real. That is why we tend to be reluctant to share our faith and directly confront those who oppose our point of view. That is why we don’t expect to actually meet God in our quiet time. That is why we don’t expect God to actually work miracles in our daily lives. That is why we don’t actively and often share our faith with other people. We simply don’t put a lot of energy into what we don’t consider to be objectively real.
To get at how this plays out in life, we need to do a comparison. First, let’s become very clear about the beliefs that are taught in the Bible concerning the incarnation, and the worldview implications of those beliefs. Following that, we will look at the alternative beliefs of the other worldviews. Finally, we will make a brief comparison so that we can fully understand how the implications play out in life and eternity.
The Biblical View of Jesus’ Incarnation
The first thing we need to understand relates to who Jesus is and what he is like according to the Bible. In a nutshell, Jesus is an actual, objective person. He was a historical human being who was born in the land of Israel during the time of the Roman occupation. Beyond that, though, Jesus was the actual human incarnation of God himself. God took the form of a human being in order to live life among his creation. He did this in order to reveal himself more fully, and through his death and resurrection to fulfill the requirements for the salvation of mankind. Just to drive this point home a little more clearly, Jesus was not a “mere mortal,” he was not a phantom, he was not merely a prophet or some great religious teacher. He was also not simply one of a series of incarnations who each provided a greater revelation of God. Nor was he some kind of “not completely human” manifestation of God. He was, literally, God who chose to enter the world by the same means that all of the rest of us entered the world, and who lived life on earth as an actual human being.
This is important because the teachings of Christ, along with his death and resurrection, actually accomplished results that have eternal effects. But the effects are based entirely on whether or not individuals receive it that way. If God did not literally become a man and do what he the Bible says he did, then the salvation that is taught in the Bible is not true and is not available. And if he literally did do what is asserted in the Bible, the person who does not accept it as truth is not in a position to apply God’s salvation to his life.
Other Views of Jesus’ Incarnation
There are some other views of who Jesus is. Every worldview has a tendency to treat him in a particular way, though there are variations within them, as well. Let’s look at some of the possibilities and their implications.
Of course, Biblical Christianity is a form of Theism, and the above view is its specific expression. But there are other forms of Theism, as well. In general, Theistic belief systems do acknowledge that Jesus was an actual historical figure. There are differences beyond that, though, as to who they believe he was. Just to give a few examples, Islam considers that he was merely a prophet. Mormonism considers him to have been a man who became a God after his death on earth. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t acknowledge him as the incarnation of God, but teach that he was an angel before he came to earth, and that he returned to that form after physical death.
While it is plain to see that there are various approaches to who he was, the tendency of Theism is to see Jesus as an especially holy man, but not God. As a result, he is not acknowledged to provide the means of salvation. He only pointed mankind towards it.
Naturalism has two different ways that its adherents tend to address Jesus. Some consider that he was nothing more than a mythical figure who never really existed in history. Others acknowledge his historical existence, but since the supernatural is not acknowledged to exist, Jesus is viewed as a mere mortal – perhaps an extraordinary man, but a mortal none the less.
The implication, here, is plain. If there is no God, and if Jesus was merely a regular human being, he has nothing to do with the salvation of humanity. He may have left humanity a good legacy for doing good, but that is about as far as it can go.
Animistic thought basically considers Jesus to be in the same category as any of their religious leaders. He is looked upon as a shaman or witch doctor. He was, obviously, one who had a special connection to the spiritual part of reality, but Animism does not acknowledge a special need for a Savior. Whenever a person dies, they automatically enter the spiritual world as a spiritual being.
The result is fairly obvious. He was not a savior, only an especially gifted shaman who was able to help people have a more effective interaction with the spiritual world.
Far Eastern Thought
Far Eastern Thought looks at Jesus as one of the many incarnations of God who came to earth to point people in the right direction. Some even go so far as to assert that his silent years, between age twelve and the beginning of his public ministry, was spent in India learning the “Truth” based on Hindu beliefs.
Under Far Eastern Thought, Jesus is not seen as a savior, as a savior is not needed in this system. Jesus was merely a human who was at his last material incarnation before merging with the impersonal “Cosmos.”
How The Incarnation and Worldview Fit Together
As can be seen by these brief descriptions, who a person considers Jesus to be is not some mere abstract, philosophical point. It actually determines how we live and what kind of purpose and meaning we experience in life. It determines, or at least influences, who, or what, we turn to in order to find meaning for our lives and salvation for our souls. If Jesus truly is God who provided salvation through an actual incarnational existence, we must respond by entering into a relationship with him based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If he is believed to be something else, then the response toward him will be different.
As a bottom line assertion, Jesus Christ is God. And it was the work he did during his incarnation, as an actual human being, which supplied humanity with the means to enter into a personal relationship with God. By understanding and acting on this knowledge, we are able to actually take hold of salvation and live out its implications for our lives.
© 2008 Freddy Davis